Heebie Jeebies

Okay ya’ll. I probably didn’t communicate this clearly enough in class this morning but our whole discussion about cyborgs really gave me the creeps. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies and read too many books (an unrelated note: I did actually watch “Blade Runner” for the first time this weekend and had a similar reaction) but cyborgs in popular media really do scare me just a little bit and make me uncomfortable. Thinking of all those “dangerous possibilities” Haraway mentions, one can imagine that if we were to ever actually create an actual cyborg that operates the way the author describes it really would be kinda terrifying.

I think my own discomfort and the discomfort or fear that many other people might feel when confronting the figure of the cyborg comes from our innate human desire for certainty and clarity and our incapacity to reconcile ambiguity  A cyborg, something that collapses and transgresses boundaries between human and machine, material and spiritual, almost nearly falls into the Uncanny Valley. For anyone who hasn’t seen Vsauce’s “Why Are Things Creepy?” video on YouTube (link below!), the Uncanny Valley, originally coined by Masahiro Mori in 1970, “describes our strange revulsion toward things that appear nearly human, but not quite right” (Shwarz, “10 Creepy Examples of the Uncanny Valley”). It’s been theorized that this revulsion has evolutionary origins and helped early humans avoid other humans that looked wrong or sick and may have been ill. Similarly, cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable tension we feel when our minds try to compute two conflicting thoughts at once. This confusion along with the bizarre phenomenon of the Uncanny Valley result in an experience of the “creeps”, the “heebie jeebies” – precisely what I felt when we talked about cyborgs.

Now this in no way means I’m opposed to collapsing and negating the existing hierarchical binaries. But I think it’s important and helpful not to dismiss this discomfort but to examine it. One reason I think I feel uncomfortable with the idea of a real life, physical manifestation of a cyborg is because it blurs the line of what is human and changes the definition of humanness. What does it mean to be “human”, now that living things can be built instead of born? Do cyborgs and cyborg-like creatures lack humanity or do they showcase an evolved, more intellectually complex version of humanity that we might anticipate in the future? If it’s the latter, do we like what we see? Can we reconcile this idea of humanity with the one that we already credit as our unequivocal human nature? Are we only creating more binaries by posing these two separate versions of “humanity” as contrasting opposites, each one standing on the other side of that treacherous Uncanny Valley?

Just some food for thought.

Here’s the link to the video (just a warning: there are some creepy images in this video (obviously) so if you scare easily or have a strong aversion for CreepyPasta memes, steer clear!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEikGKDVsCc

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